back to article PEAK LANDFILL: Why tablet gloom is good news for Windows users

"Everything points to a boom in the landfill business" – The Register, 2012 Are tablets the new netbooks – a flash in the pan? Or perhaps even the new picture frames - a one-season fad? I don’t think so, but sales are flat, and the numbers look ominous for any global technology company hoping they’ll provide a long-term money …

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Tablets are neither phones nor PCs

I suspect the numbers make sense. I really don't think people use tablets to replace other devices, so the netbook analogy, as an adjunct to "proper" tech, is probably accurate. The result is that of people have a tablet, it needs to work well enough, rather than there being any compelling need to upgrade every year. Of course, fans of particular brands may well upgrade on cue, but that group is not in the majority. Yes, people buying tablets now are buying much better kit than a few years ago, but they're also doing the same job, in much the same way, as a few years ago. You can still browse, check email, stream video or audio and play the odd game on a tablet a few years old, so there's little attraction to fork out more for the same.

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Re: Tablets are neither phones nor PCs

> It lost billions more making boutique own-brand hardware which nobody wants.

I think people would want them, just not at the apple level price range, MS is more like walmart, apple is more like Harrods. Selling a walmart product at harrods prices is never going to work, and then not subsidising touchscreens for all laptops with windows 8 was dumb.

I have a kindle fire, never used a tablet before, never will get another. It has become a replacement for the magazine rack in the bog... apart from that, I have no use for a tablet.

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Re: Tablets are neither phones nor PCs

True. And what tablets *have* done, is demonstrate that for certain values of "PC User", a tablet is quite adequate.

Take my wife for example (I wish someone would ;) ). Totally non-IT person, but uses email, and browses a lot, and likes Amazon. When the only tool we had to achieve these tasks was a PC, she used a PC. However, after locating a decent high-spec 10" HDTV android for <£200 at Christmas, she hasn't used the PC once.

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Re: Tablets are neither phones nor PCs

Another reason that there is little need to upgrade every year is that the software / UI side of tablets is still constantly evolving, backed by interests that want the ecosystem to be so comfy you don't want to leave. So most tablet users are getting incremental improvements anyway without shelling out for the latest shiny.

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Linux

Re: Tablets are neither phones nor PCs

No. The it's the Apple product that introduced the Wal-mart price tag. There is a natural price for these things and Apple found it. They also figured out what kind of cheap hardware they need to put into it in order to make the price point. Since they didn't have a decades long desktop monopoly, they weren't tied to the x86. As a failure at the desktop, they were free to ignore it.

There simply may be no "Herrods" niche when it comes to tables. The same goes for video streamers. Google tried selling a "premium" product and got slapped down in the same way Microsoft did.

It's possible that the price collapse in PCs got everyone used to the idea that hardware should be cheap making it an uphill battle for ANY "premium" option.

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Ah, but what about Chromebooks? The future might be laptop + phone; but it might not be a Windows laptop.

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"The future might be laptop + phone..."

No, although I know most of you refuse to believe it, the fact is that the future is phone, period.

There is currently no technical reason why a phone cannot be connected to a larger screen, a keyboard, a mouse, etc. The barriers to this scenario are all artifices, built primarily to protect media interests. Eliminate those barriers and you have a platform that could handle the productivity needs of at least 80% of today's market (those that do email, internet and an office suite). As the power of the processors grows (as it is at an astounding rate), the platform will cover the needs of more and more of the market until the idea even of lugging an ultrabook around (and having to deal with what files or documents are on what device) will seem absurd.

At the moment, phones and tablets are considered toys. Phones get less of that moniker because they are useful as communications devices, but neither is considered a viable platform to get "real" work done. Looking back in history, the exact same argument was made about the PC (though in that case, it was the lack of power, not the interface that drove that point of view). Yet today, the PC is king, ruling over both the home and the workplace. Phones and tablets are powerful enough and can eliminate the need for an additional computing device and that's all that's required to start a revolution.

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Anonymous Coward

The Future might be laptop + phone

Even this is wrong. The future will be watch and TV/Monitor.

What a top end Smartphone can do now a watch will be able to do in 5 years. Add in speech and you don't need a keyboard. For "work" you use enhanced Bluetooth to a monitor or TV.

In 10 or 15 years time the PC and laptop as we know it will be dead.

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You can already do this. You can even get battery powered screens that hook up via mhl. If I can't be bothered to start up the pic for something basic I just hook my phone up to the TV and use a blue tooth keyboard and mouse. The move towards a true single edition of Windows across all screens with decent (hopefully) X86 chips should make this even easier. I don't doubt a Macbook air is faster than my note 3, but I think I wouldn't notice most of the time. Video and image editing are always going to be on a desktop rather than a phone but X86 phones running full Windows might just save Microsoft from complete humiliation.

RT is an abomination, forcing desktop users to use a fairly decent on a tablet but hateful on a pc interface, and it seems they might actually end up in the right place. I don't see them beating Android or Apple, but I think they might just have a place in the market in the future as hardware advances enough to run a desktop os on a phone. They need to be severely beaten for their recent products though! Luckiest barstewards alive.

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"The future might be laptop + phone..."

Not to mention that that Phablets... Are also extremely low-power Devices when compared to say a PC. In fact I'm just chilling-out now till my Cable Contract runs out in December. Before I basically trash my HTPC (EasyVDR Linux / DVB-C & DVBS2), System for a smallish Android Box with XBMC as the Main OS installed. I expect this "Setup" will save me quite a few 100's over the coming Year. Not just on Cable Fees, but also on the 'leccy....

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Re: Yet today, the PC is king

No it is not, not anymore.

The PC has lost its crown, and most analysts acknowledge that.

It will not disappear, keyboard+mouse is still the best interface there is for actual work, but the heady days where the PC commanded all the attention is gone and will never come back.

And, of course, you can connect a keyboard and mouse to something other than a PC anyway, so the PC is going to end up relegated to the back office/content creation role it was destined for.

Tablets and phones are good enough for 95% of users anyway. As long as they can Like that kitty video, they're good.

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@Vector I agree that mobile devices will usurp conventional x86 PCs. Equally, I think plenty of people will need keyboards. And if the hardware is cheap and iff all your work is in the cloud then why bother with a laptop- or desktop-sized "dock" for your mobile phone? Why not just own another device?

Although maybe there is a case for having docks in public spaces as a service (e.g. on the train?) so that your customers don't have to lug around laptops.

As for tablets, I thought they a were solution looking for a problem - too big to be easily portable but not as useful as a PC. So when my Dad got my Mum one, I didn't think she'd use it. But she uses it as a portable TV, dragging it round the house watching TV wherever she is; she barely watches the main TV. But she she still uses her main PC for email.

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For me and many others, it's a Windows laptop with a decent Linux installed.

Now if we could just get rid of the extra step of wiping Windows, and have Linux factory-fresh...

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@Rampant Spaniel re: "You can already do this. You can even get battery powered screens that hook up via mhl."

You can, but not all your apps will work as expected, though this is, AFAIK, mainly limited to media apps. Some apps just won't run or at least won't stream video if they detect an HDMI connection (Hulu) while others try to do something fancy with the "second screen" (YouTube). Again, this is all just artifice to try and protect revenues for the content providers. It's silly at this point when you can get a full-fledged Wintel (ok, atom but still) PC in an 8-inch (or less) form factor that has none of the restrictions put on mobile OSes.

@Pascal Monett re: Yet today, the PC is king

I don't know what world you live in, but in the one I see, the PC retains it's crown in the workplace at the very least. While you may see some tablets and such running around to meetings and on the go, there's still a PC or laptop on virtually every desk in the corporate world.

The King may be dying, but he's not dead quite yet.

@ Brewster's Angle Grinder re: "...why bother with a laptop- or desktop-sized 'dock' for your mobile phone? Why not just own another device?"

Why pay for another computing device when the one in your hand can accomplish everything you need? And accomplish it without all the grinding to the cloud (which may fail you at the most inopportune time). The dock need not be desktop or even laptop sized. If there's a screen handy, it need only be the size of a keyboard (you pick the size keys you're comfortable with).

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Re: The Future might be laptop + phone

The watch is not going to be the engine of personal computing without a small revolution in battery technology. It's bad enough having to recharge my smartphone's 2500+mAh battery at least daily and sometimes more often; how much of a drag will it be to have to unstrap a wristwatch every few hours to juice it up?

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Vector, perhaps thing have changed but hulu, Netflix and Amazon prime (using dolphin) all play on my TV via mhl from my note3. I don't doubt things will get locked down if it becomes more popular. Hdmi recorders are getting cheaper and more popular, especially given the ability to record clean output from certain dslr's so copying would be relatively easy.

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Re: Yet today, the PC is king

Tablets and phones are good enough for 95% of users anyway. As long as they can Like that kitty video, they're good.

Again sad.... But true. Though the Gaming PC may yet live on as the Steam Box... If Valve can somehow manage to tweak the price down by quite a bit. But the day of the ugly beige tower(s) are behind us now.

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Why pay for another computing device when the one in your hand can accomplish everything you need?

Personal device and work device.

Backup device in case one is broken / unavailable.

Different types and amounts of storage for different purposes - conventional disk is still a lot cheaper than SSD. Different hardware interfaces, or differently-accessible ones. (My phone has a MicroSD "slot", but I have to take the phone apart to get to it. It's great for additional storage, not great if I want to read the SD card from my camera. I could carry around a USB SD reader, but then we're back in the game of carrying a bunch of hardware around.) Bigger batteries in the laptop form factor.

If I'm going to use a phone in "laptop mode", I'll be using a full-size keyboard and screen. That's a laptop; it just has a detachable CPU with its own little screen, packaged as a phone. I don't see any particular advantage to that configuration.

Today I have a work laptop, a personal laptop, and a phone. I don't want to replace any of those with one of the others. I like separation of concerns. That means I often carry three devices around, but apparently either I have superhuman strength, or a lot of people like to whine about what is really not much weight. (I suspect a little exercise might do them good.)

Of course, I'm under no illusions that my preferences match those of any significant number of consumers. But every time I read one of these posts about how obviously everyone will be doing X in a few years, I really have to wonder whether the author has ever actually met other people. There are a bunch of us, and we don't all hold the same opinions.

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Linux

More of the ARM delusion.

ARM devices simply don't have the horsepower either CPU or GPU to displace a real PC. At best you will be looking at some very severe compromises. You will just have to give up on doing some simple basic things that would be trivial with a more powerful machine.

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Bah!

"No, although I know most of you refuse to believe it, the fact is that the future is phone, period."

I hope so, because then maybe some money and R&D might be spent on making these devices fit machines for making a telephone call.

I don't believe the future is in any of the devices mentioned here. The fact is that the phone is portable but unusable as a workstation due to the tiny viewing area. The tablet is a marginally useful workstation that is only portable if you carry around a bag in which to port it. The "Pocket/Useful Screen" dilemma will not be solved by anything currently available.

I suspect the answer will lie in a several-generations-of-development-distant descendant of Googleglass coupled with freehand micro-gesture capture and voice-interaction. When the input area is anywhere someone isn't standing and the viewable area is a virtual heads-up illusion the dichotomy will not exist.

And Azathoth help us all then. One sneeze and the fridge defrosts all your Chipwiches into inedible sludge while you are twenty miles away at work, your Netflix account closes itself and your cloudy music library is erased.

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I quite like the idea of a 10" tablet with a removable keyboard that can run a full sized operating system. Preferably *inx but Windows would do. A lot of the time though it feels like companies put products out because they think they have to but don't want to compromise another area were they make more money without realising they are probably going to lose the business anyway.

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Asus Transformer

...is what you're describing. runs Windows 8.1, comes with Office, has an SD slot for extra storage...

I don't work for Asus, but I do like the machine a lot...

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LDS
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Re: Asus Transformer

I guess it's a Surface Pro, not an ASUS...

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Environmentalism

Was the sideswipe at environmentalism really necessary? Regardless of whether or not the comment is correct, it has nothing to do with fashion-following in the IT industry.

On a slightly different note, this week I had to configure a laptop for someone that came with Windows 8. I had forgotten what a piled high repository of shit the UI is on that thing. When I eventually got 8.1 installed, I concluded (as I had faced in the past with ME and Vista) that Microsoft's problem is still too much money and too many empires. Too many empires means daft ideas get promoted by someone, too much money means that they get into production.

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Re: Environmentalism

This morning I rebuilt a Surface Pro 1 from 8.0 pro to 8.1 with all patches & firmware updates and all our apps in under 3 hours - What's your problem?

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Re: Environmentalism

I´ve never had the pleasure of doing anything with Windows 8, but I do think that three hours sounds a bit of a pain. Re-installing (or upgrading) my OS of choice takes maybe 20-30 minutes max.

Thank you Linus et al, :-)

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I would agree with the analysis.

I've got a Nexus 7 which is basically used for a bit of browsing, keeping an eye on emails and Facebook when I can't be bothered with a laptop (oh and iPlayer when I'm in bed). As long as it continues to do all that reasonably well I shan't bother to replace it. If and when it does eventually die it'll probably be replaced with the same again as I see no point paying a premium price.

By comparison I did upgrade the laptop to a Dell PowerBook recently and the phone gets upgraded at each contract renewal.

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No need to upgrade your hardware if you buy a Nexus 7

I also have a (2013) Nexus 7. It is well supported by Google. I am already running Android 4.4.4, which not many other tablets or phones are running. I understand that my Nexus 7 will get all of the security updates that I need for the next 4 years or so. My Nexus 7 will run any current game well. I imagine that there will be games that my Nexus 7 will not run well within 2 years time but I will delay upgrading my Nexus 7 until it no longer supports the current version of Android.

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Re: GlenP

Your post was full of sense until the very end.

and the phone gets upgraded at each contract renewal.

Why are you tied into a contract? What is the upside compared to being able to move networks and take your number with you on say a 'buy your own phone and have a one month £10.00 (or thereabouts) rolling contract type deal?

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Boffin

I remember those days

... when I could bring up my old handset and have it linked to a new contract. This would enable me to avoid the compulsory 12/18/24-month period and be able to terminate my contract with only a 30-day notice. It's been years, maybe a decade since that ability went away as "bring your own phone" is no longer an option. I know, I tried to do this back in 2007 with my PAYG phone.

However, one thing I do know is that you might sign up for a 12, 18 or 24 month mandatory term contract ... but this is a minimum length. You can hold on to your contract after the mandatory term ends, and you'll be able to do the 30-day termination notice if you hold to it. This is why my carrier starts nagging me around my "expiration date" offering free handsets just to get me on a new contract. I also get a plus as I rack up more "client points" which make my next upgrade choice cheaper, and I get out a longer lifetime out of my current smartphone. My previous one (BlackBerry Bold 9700) lasted me 3 years, and would've probably lived longer had I not made the mistake of upgrading it to BBOS 6 (it couldn't handle that OS). I'm probably going to go down the upgrade path early this time round, but mostly because my current phone was obsoleted earlier than expected. I hope my next choice doesn't go down the same route...

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Re: I remember those days

... when I could bring up my old handset and have it linked to a new contract. [...] It's been years, maybe a decade since that ability went away as "bring your own phone" is no longer an option. I know, I tried to do this back in 2007 with my PAYG phone.

Err, what? EE, Vodafone, O2 and 3 all do "SIM-only" deals, on either 30-day or 12-month contracts.

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"Do give it a few seconds to adjust to the presenter's whiny voice"

Christ, you weren't wrong about the whiny voice. Did someone digitally alter his voice as a prank?

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Re: "Do give it a few seconds to adjust to the presenter's whiny voice"

"Did someone digitally alter his voice as a prank?"

No, it's a symptom of helium addiction.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: "Do give it a few seconds to adjust to the presenter's whiny voice"

I had to pitch shift down to -4 on the sound settings to make it bearable, setting back to 0 just before the end was a bit of a shock!

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Told ya!

Why am I not surprised? I have a tablet, but I have more than one computer. OK, that's not a normal state of affairs for the average home user but the question has to be whether a tablet can replace a normal computer as a general purpose machine. I've said in the past that it can't, and here's why.

A personal computer, regardless of the make or type or operating system, is designed as a general purpose beast. It doesn't do anything exceptionally but it does everything well enough to be usable for whatever is needed.

A tablet is not a general purpose system. The lack of human interface devices (as they call keyboards and mice these days) means that it is hobbled to doing one particular job very well but not really being suited to general use unless you start adding things, in which case it ceases to be just a tablet.

Of course, the biggest problem has little to do with PCs or tablets per se, but with a market that is obsessed with people buying more and more without considering things like market saturation, natural end of life of product and usage. If you have a market where everyone has a PC that is working well, then what is the liklihood of being able to sell a new PC to these people? Or a tablet? Or an operating system?

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Holmes

Re: Told ya!

Totally agree. Desktop PC with large (non-touch) screen for productive work, and I'm looking hard at a Chromebook for mobile use. Covers all my needs, plus I can easily upgrade / rebuild my PC whenever technological developments justify it.

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Re: Told ya!

Um, Microsoft has been selling new OSes to people who already them for decades, so I fail to see your point.

Selling a tablet to a household full of PCs works quite well. Madame will enjoy a less cumbersome machine on the sofa instead of sitting at a desk to consult her favourite shopping sites, Junior will enjoy surfing in his room instead of the living room and Julie will adore spending hours lying on her bed in private with Facebook instead of enduring Junior watching over her shoulders in said living room.

Because 95% of users don't actually need a PC - it's just that until tablets came out, it was all they had.

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Re: Told ya!

95% of users don't need a PC? Where did you get that figure from?

Read what I said again. I didn't just refer to PCs but to general purpose computers. In particular, the last paragraph sums the problem up. OK, I said that "...everyone has a PC..." but that could just as easily read "...everyone has a tablet..." "...everyone has a netbook..." "...everyone has a smart TV..." or whatever. The problem with the market still remains, whatever the system is.

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Windows

I 'm amazed you resisted the obvious Sinofsky Hybridisation IT.

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Anonymous Coward

My impression was that many (most?) tablets and even notebooks have batteries that can't be replaced by the user. This would seem to be built-in obsolescence that will limit a device's life to only a few years. I presumed that was the manufacturers' game plan for a self-renewing market.

A friend bought a Windows 8.1 notebook like that. She declined the offer of a W7 laptop on the grounds that W7 will be not supported after about 2020 - and she wanted a device that would last beyond then. I will have to keep my mouth firmly closed when her notebook battery dies - presumably long before then.

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One app for all?

Maybe for some trivial apps.

But small phones, large phones & small tablets, large tablets, PCs (inc Notebooks) and "Smart" TVs or any of above driving a TV at 1m to 3m viewing distance need 6 flavours of GUI.

Some applications simply are not suitable all classes of device, even if the underlying API and tools let you write one app for all Java (despite some short comings) can either use Programmer's skin or the native GUI / Skin of the target. I've certainly done some applications in Java that are write once and work on Gnome Linux, windows and a mad 320 x 240 PDA device running Debian on ARM.

So are yet again MS jumping from one extreme to the other? Pre Zune & Metro you had the stupidity of Win95 style interface on WinCE. 320 x 240 devices.

So SOMETIMES you can write one app for all platforms. Other times really best usability is a different application for each. Absolutely though the different platforms need different GUIs.

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Re: One app for all?

Biggest sin... MS never employed programmers like you. Not even Samsung and the like who build everything from Phones to TVs... as they'd save a lot in unifying the OS/software (no need to port software, use same chips in all devices etc).

But then again, perhaps they want built in obsolescence?

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Vic
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Re: One app for all?

Some applications simply are not suitable all classes of device, even if the underlying API and tools let you write one app for all

I've written apps for multiple platforms in the past. My tool of preference is Glade.

This separates the application from the UI, meaning that re-skinning an app for a different platform or different role is simply a matter of re-drawing the UI in the RAD tool. As the UI is defined as XML, you can even hand-edit it for simple changes.

Qt does something similar, although my experience so far suggests that the "load the UI directly from XML" feature is less well-used than it is for Glade :-(

Vic.

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Post PC

For most people (i.e. the non el-reg readership) I *still* think that a tablet outdoes a laptop, and a desktop.

Simple to use, no moving the mouse to move an arrow on screen, decent battery and screen. Pair a keyboard, or for true "hunt-and-peck" users simply install an alphabetic or semi-alphabetic keyboard on screen.

Email, web browsing, writing a book, all things that are easily achievable on a tablet. Video editing might want more grunt, but that's as niche as compiling large software packages.

I've stopped with smartphones now. If/When I upgrade my Nexus7 (1st gen) I might get something with 3G capability, but my feature phone shares it's 3G connection by bluetooth, so it's hardly a deal breaker. My mobile operator will do me a data SIM for the same cost as the data bit of my existing contract, so that's not a change either way. I don't buy into the phone upgrade every 18 months lark either.

I like the 7" device size - it just slips in a pocket nicely.

Tablet + feature phone (so it actually makes calls and the battery lasts me all week) is an attractive combination. Add a bluetooth keyboard and I've suddenly got everything I need with me - miniHDMI out would be nice for a second (or replicated) screen

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Re: Post PC

"Email, web browsing, writing a book, all things that are easily achievable on a tablet."

I disagree. Reading email and web browsing sure. Writing a short email, ok. But, if I want to write a longer email, that maybe includes a few web links and/or attachments, then I will put down the tablet and pick up the mouse & keyboard.

As for writing a book? You really expect people to write 80,000 - 120,000 words on a software keyboard? Pull the other one, its less excruciating.

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Post Post PC

The tablet world is the same as the PC world. We've all got one. We don't need two.

It didn't take long to saturate the market, but they have. Bye Bye explosive growth.

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Re: Post PC

My wife did it. Her second book was written on an iPad. She's not particularly technical, so the "just works" element is very attractive.

No I don't expect you to use the soft keyboard, any more than I expect you to click on the onscreen keyboard on a PC. She used a BT keyboard, and with Apple selling some rather nice models it's an excellent combination. An "origami" case protects the keyboard in a bag and provides a convenient prop for the iPad (with case) in and orientation.

Tablets are perfectly good devices, and deserve well chosen accessories, just as your PC does.

Oh, and I don't expect a hunt and peck user to type a full manuscript, so an onscreen semi alphabetic keyboard puts the keys in an order they recognise.

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Coat

Re: Post PC

"My wife did it. Her second book was written on an iPad."

Excellent and I hope it sells well.

I'm *assuming* that the opus was continuous prose? Dawkins wrote The Blind Watchmaker on his BBC B+ (albeit with that large clacky keyboard). Lest we forget journalists phoned in copy typed on a TRS-80 via accoustic coupler over Strowger switched phone lines from various Front Lines a few decades ago. Joyce, Auster and Powell weaved their narratives on typewriters (similar ergonomics to a laptop or tablet/keyboard/stand).

I suspect the future will include workstations and laptops for those of us who need to include significant graphical content with our writing and for those who need to edit and convert multimedia content or corral and brand data. These might well be niche products, one hopes with lifetimes measured in decades.

Icon: Trench coat of course. Shorthand pad in one pocket and Talkman in the other.

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Thumb Up

Re: Post PC

@IronGut.. Have an upvote. Also doing decent passwords is a sod of job on tablets. Since most tablets I have fondled have a shiny slippery case they are too easy to drop. Ironically, I prefer a netbook and tethered phone for light travel because it is easy to use. Have to move it to a decent light linux soon though. Failing that a laptop that is structurally thick enough to not snap at first drop.

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Re: Post PC

Reasonable assumption, it was mostly prose - although as is pointed out in the article/linked review with Wacom inputs for a tablet they're moving rather well into the graphical space as well. I've not used a tablet-ised Photoshop, then again I rarely use more than the most basic of features in the GIMP either, so I'm relying on reviews rather heavily here.

I believe I made specific mention that video editing was an exception - but that's more to do with sheer computational grunt than anything else. Yes the lifetime of workstations and "mobile workstations" will be measured in decades, if not more (unless pulling in remote CPU becomes feasible - and that feels a long way off, and running secondary++ monitors becomes the norm). Of course the Surface tries to accommodate this by being a full bown OS and docking in to a monitor at your home/office - so a high powered tablet of that kind could replace them. You might even be able to dock onto more CPU???

What's the difference between an iPad running Pages and a mac running Pages?

The OSX version has a few more formatting features to choose from, but it's the same(ish) keyboard into basically the same software. The iPad has a smaller* screen, but doesn't have lumps taken up with menu bars and docks etc. it's still perfectly capable of holding a decent amount of content on screen in a visible fashion.

*Although not that much smaller than the portable end of the laptop/notebook range.

Frankly I think the point is that peripherals are king (assuming that software exists to do what you want).

The advantage a tablet has therefore, is that most of the time you don't need the peripherals at all, but they can be there when you want them - and for *most* people (i.e. non el-reg readership) that's a fairly rare event.

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